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Abstracts of ACCORD Projects


Dissertation Fellowships

Gilbert J. Contreras
UCLA/urban planning

Dissertation: Transforming School Culture by Containing Gangs and Creating Safer Communities

About: In California’s public schools, youth are becoming victims of criminalization under the banner of promoting school and community safety.  Increasingly, urban schools function as an extension of the criminal justice system and educational goals are subordinate to law enforcement priorities.  This study will analyze the controversial policy of civil gang injunctions and the implications on the culture of schools.  In addition, this study will provide a model for statewide policymakers regarding the interdependent relationship between crime containment policy and school safety efforts.

Maria Ledesma

Dissertation: Higher Education as a Political Act: Waging the Battle Against Fictive Meritocracy

About: Policy making in K-20 is often influenced by factors outside the realm of education. The language employed in public discourse to frame issues of educational opportunity also influences how policy is crafted and implemented. This fact coupled with ongoing debates around who deserves to gain entry into selective institutions of higher education, as well as enduring concerns about the use of race-conscious admissions policies have made college access and admissions a political act for many Students of Color. As more students apply for graduate and undergraduate admittance, race-conscious admissions practices aimed at equalizing the historic under-representation of Students of Color in higher education are increasingly scrutinized and attacked. The purpose of this dissertation then is to explore how critics and supporters of race-conscious admissions policies in the University of Michigan’s 2003 affirmative action cases addressed, or failed to address, prevailing patterns of schooling inequality and disparities in access to higher education and what this means for California and the nation.

Anysia Mayer
UC Davis/education

Dissertation: Interrupting social reproduction: An International Baccalaureate program in a diverse urban high school

About: My dissertation research will examine the development and outcomes of a high quality academic program, the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IB), in two contrasting schools.  One school serves a community that is relatively disadvantaged according to a wide range of social and economic indicators. The other school serves a community at the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum. This study seeks to determine if an IB program established in a low performing school provide the same kinds of educational opportunities to students as an IB program in a high performing school. And to identify the relative importance of both SES and program design in shaping the educational futures of diverse students. Our understanding of these issues bear directly on one of the most critical social and educational dilemmas of our times: educational inequality, manifested in this case in college-going rates.

Elvia Ramirez
UC Riverside/sociology

Dissertation: Navigating Through Highly Unequal Terrain: Latinos and Latinas in Graduate Education

About: This study will investigate how University of California policies, as well as inequalities embedded in the graduate schooling process itself, impact the educational trajectories of Latino/a doctoral students. Research suggests that recent policies enacted by the University of California system, including budget cuts, narrowing of admissions criteria, and increases in student fees, threaten the academic presence of Latinos/as and other historically underrepresented students at the undergraduate level.  Less concern and research, however, has focused on how these and other University of California policies also impact Latinos/as at the doctoral level. This dissertation will examine how University of California policies, as well as race, class, and gender inequities embedded in the graduate schooling process, impact Latinos/as’ access to, and experiences in, doctoral degree programs in the University of California system.

Michelle Renee

Dissertation: Using Research to Make a Difference: How community organizations use research as a tool for advancing equity-focused education policy

About: The increasing activism of grassroots organizations representing low-income communities and communities of color in education reform has been little studied, either by education researchers or sociologists of social movements.  Yet, this activism is significant, given the failure of traditional educational reform strategies to realize more equitable schooling.  This study examines one aspect of this new form of change:  how equity-focused organizations define, value, access and use research in their efforts to advance educational equity. As educational discourses become increasingly "scientific," community organizations and social movements must rely on research knowledge to advance equity agendas.  Using mixed methods, I examine through the lenses of social movement theory, studies of equity reform in education, and research utilization in policymaking, how organizations use research, like the kind of research produced by ACCORD scholars, to positively impact critical equity issues, critical college going conditions and critical transitions in the lives of underrepresented students.

Michael J. Strambler
UC Berkeley/psychology

Dissertation: Academic Identification among Ethnic Minority Elementary School Children:  Developmental and School Contextual Factors

About: Despite a large body of research on the achievement gap, disparities between ethnic minorities and whites continues to be one of the largest and most important problems of this society.  Researchers have examined issues related to the gap ranging from biological, cultural, familial, and social factors.  Academic identification, or how much one values and bases one’s self-esteem on academic performance, is one such factor that has been explored in explaining the achievement gap.  While there is some evidence that African American and Latino students are less academically identified than whites, there remains much to be understood about the developmental and context-specific factors that contribute to such differences.  Also, few studies have examined academic identification within an ethnic minority population. My study aims to shed new light on developmental and environmental processes related to academic identification in the context of a high-poverty, predominantly ethnic minority elementary school.  Specifically, from the perspective of students, I examine how classroom learning conditions (i.e. teacher expectations, student-teacher relationships, academic press), school culture (sense of community), and beliefs about the benefits of education relate to academic identification and gains in achievement.  Developmentally, I examine the degree and process of academic identification across grade levels while exploring factors associated with ethnic (African American and Latino) and gender differences.

Erica K. Yamamura

Dissertation: Moving from College Access to Educational Equity: Peer Social Capital in a University Outreach Program

About: With continuing challenges in access to higher education for urban minority students, looking in-depth at outreach programs is imperative in this time of fiscal uncertainty in California. Increased accountability to policymakers with decreased funding necessitates identifying outreach outcomes that not only facilitate college-going but also translate into college success. This study aims to uncover the long-term effects of a university outreach program by linking its effectiveness from acceptance to college alone (college access) to adjustment and persistence in the college years (college equity).  Building on a pilot study that identified peer social capital as a salient resource in students’ college application processes, this study will continue to examine the influence of outreach peers on students’ transition to college and first-year experience. Informed by theories of social capital and critical race theory, interviews with outreach students and document analyses of the outreach program will be conducted.



Postdoctoral fellows

Gigi Gomez, Ph.D.

Title: Clearing a Path to College: Examining How the Home and School Cultures Influence the College Choices of Mien American Students.

The Mien Americans are a largely unknown population when compared to other Southeast Asians and Asian Pacific Islander Americans. Arriving to the United States as war refugees of war in the 1970s, the adjustment and social problems of Mien American refugee adults and their American born children are typically unidentified, understudied, and unaddressed. Experiencing low educational attainment rates, few Mien Americans have gone to college. But because of their small numbers, the model minority image, and the practice of aggregating all Asian ethnic sub-groups, the educational struggles of the Mien Americans go undetected.

Extending my dissertation’s college-choice study on Mien American high school students, I plan to return to the same California public high school and examine how Mien refugee parents, teachers, and counselors influence the college choices of Mien students. Working with Dr. Margaret Gibson and her theory of accommodation without assimilation, I seek to understand the tensions and barriers as well as the successful strategies that the parents, teachers, and counselors impose on the Mien college-going students. Utilizing qualitative methods, the purpose of this study is not only to examine how parents and school staff members can work together to bolster the weak educational pipeline of the Mien students, but also to broaden the college access knowledge for other similar struggling students through programs, policy, and research.


Faculty Seed Grant

George Bunch, Ph.D.
UC Santa Cruz/education

Title: English Learners, Language Policy, and Transitions to Higher Education

The seed grant will be used to design a larger proposal investigating how institutional conceptions of language proficiency in general and "academic language" in particular impact the experiences of English learners as they attempt transitions from high school to higher education. The larger proposal will investigate the numerous and often conflicting language assessments and other language-related policies that California students face as they attempt to graduate from high school and attempt to access community colleges. The seed grant will be used to review relevant literature, investigate potential focal institutions for the larger study, and develop instruments for analyzing language assessments. The ultimate goal is to contribute to an understanding of the ways that language assessments and other language policies facilitate or hinder transitions to higher education by English learners, knowledge that can be used to work toward more equitable access to higher education for students from language minority backgrounds.

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